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Food critic Tonya Kuxhausen writes reviews of meals she prepares for herself at home. Food is at the center of each article but the whole dining experience is considered and commented on. To paraphrase Socrates, an unexamined meal is not worth eating.

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5 hearts = excellent!
4 hearts = very good
3 hearts = good
2 hearts = not good
1 hearts = yuck!
broken heart = ouch
4 hearts

Pine nuts and other delights

Last week I made a recipe with pine nuts and I had a lot leftover. Because pine nuts are expensive and I have them so rarely, I wanted to use them before they spoiled. I searched my recipes for something that sounded good. In Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything there were refreshing choices beyond the usual pesto I found everywhere else. I went for the couscous and paired it with the suggested stewed chickpeas with vegetables.

I had most of the ingredients for both recipes but had to run out for a few things. My first stop was Eastside Co-op. What a dreary place. As I wandered around the isles looking for apricots, the oddly dim fluorescent lights sapped my ambition and I thought about just going out for dinner. In the end I asked someone if they had dried fruit anywhere besides the empty bulk bins. A couple depressive employees investigated; they would have apricots by Tuesday. I longed for the Wedge. I paid for my cardamom pods and zucchini and left.

The Menu (10-01-04)

Stewed Chickpeas with Vegetables
Couscous with Raisins and Pine Nuts
(and Apricots!)
Whole Wheat Demi Rolls with Olive Oil
Rhone Wine, Diet Pepsi
Chocolate Cake (from Rainbow)

Where could I get some dried apricots without going to Rainbow? As I walked to my car, I remembered the mountains of dried fruit at Holy Land. I love that place. Just stepping inside the crowded and well-lit grocery store made me feel better about life. It was vibrant and people were friendly. Mr. Sabri was greeting and joking with customers like old friends, me included. They had apricots.

Back at home I started throwing things together quickly. I had planned on eating alone, but my friend called and I invited him over

to eat with me. The chickpea recipe baffled me. It was supposed to be made with chicken, but a footnote modified it with the chickpeas and it really didn't make any sense. I read it over several times and in the end I just guessed. Basically you cooked everything on the stove and then roasted it in the oven (where you normally would be roasting the chicken). It seemed unnecessary to put it in the oven, but this freed up the four burners I needed for the couscous.

I had never seen couscous so complicated, but it was worth every step in the process. It was delicious. It was warm and fragrant with the cardamom and cinnamon. The pine nuts, which I toasted in butter, added a nice flavor and a soft crunchy texture. And I'm so glad I persisted with the apricots - also simmered in butter, they were plump, juicy and sweet. The chickpeas-in-the-oven were good too, but I felt like it was missing something (hmm...chicken??). I thought maybe it needed more oil and my friend politely said, "more tomatoey or something." The rolls from Surdyk's cheese shop were OK, but not like the striato I wanted. My heart sank when I saw they were actually whole wheat.

My friend and I talked about my dad and the family dog, the weekend's marathon, and his (my friend's) button-making plans. He was hungry and tired from making buttons and he went for seconds. I was glad because I don't like a lot of leftovers. We also listened to Elvis Costello's new record, and I loved it! The French wine was very good, and my friend seemed to enjoy his own Diet Pepsi. I kept offering wine, because it is not so fun to drink alone, but he stuck to his sober guns. I felt weirdly self-conscious. He had brought dessert in a plastic box and I hounded him until he admitted he bought the cake at Rainbow. The label was scratched off, but he told me it was called "Death by Chocolate." One thing I really appreciate about my friend is that he likes dessert as much as I do, and we didn't waste any time getting right to it. It was pretty good for grocery store cake, but I wouldn't exactly say "death by chocolate." To be honest, the cake part reminded me of Hostess cupcakes and the frosting was just a little too greasy. Actually, it reminded me of when I used to whip up shaving cream and mud in the blender. Did anyone else do this as a child? It was one of my favorite activities. With the right amount of shaving cream, you could achieve a nice frothy brown mixture that was just perfect for frosting cakes from the sandbox.